Review: Song To Song

SongToSong

And so the prostitute says, “Create the Illusion, but don’t believe it.”

I am not sure if that is Terrence Malick’s thesis with Song To Song, an elliptical fairy tale of despondency, but the film does feature Val Kilmer wielding a chainsaw on stage at the SXSW music festival, so there is that.

It also embeds clips from Eric Von Stroheim’s Greed, offers heartbreaking relationship advice from punk rock goddess Patti Smith, cheerfully cuts off Iggy Pop in mid-sentence and makes a little time for Natalie Portman to wait tables and attend church services kitted out in Erin Brockovich inspired push-up bras.

Song to Song is Malick’s fifth film in six years, not including his forthcoming Europe-set WWII epic, to be released later in 2017. Apparently, The film has been in production in one way or another for seven years; long enough to recast Christian Bale (or re-purpose his footage into Knight of Cups) and lose Arcade Fire completely in the editing room. This means that the overall process overlaps all the way back with Tree of Life, the touchstone for his current mode of cinema.

The ongoing price to pay for scrapping conventional storytelling (and, you know, actual scripts) has yielded his work some superb benefits … for those keen to tune into his wavelength. Of course, this is not for everyone, and do not be surprised when many film-goers drawn in by the marquee actors and musician cameos flee the experience in frustration. Like it or not, Malick has, for some time now, been in the business of capturing elusive, immersive, Steadicam dreams of time and place that he subtly bends into narrative in the editing room.

Here he films in the in-between spaces of Texas, be it backstage casual at South By Southwest, the concrete and glass boxes of the wealthy, or windswept desert pools in the wilderness. You would not recognize this as the same Austin in the front half of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof or the sprawling walkabouts of so many a Richard Linkater joint. And though the film features an impressively programmed and multifarious playlist, the soundtrack is less the music, and more the palpable ennui of gorgeous white young things trying to find themselves in a confusing world of indulgence.

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Trailer: Terrence Malick’s Song To Song

After the magnificent Knight of Cups and the egregious Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey in 2016, Terrence Malick is back (so soon) with a rock and roll sour romance (Mike Nichol’s Closer with guitars and keyboards?) featuring some of the best A-list actors working today: Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara and Natalie Portman. Not featured in the trailer are the host of other actors, Cate Blanchette, Clifton Collins Jr., Christian Bale, Benicio Del Toro, Holly Hunter, Angela Bettis, Val Kilmer, and Halley Bennett. Nor do you see the various musicians: Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Johnny Lydon or Arcade Fire.

Shot with his signature style (lots of voice over, wide angle lenses, and pretty much zero emphasis on narrative) with his usual cinematographer, Emmanual Lubezki, if you wanted to know what an indie-rock tale would look like from the elegiac master of cinema, well, the trailer is tucked below.

Song to Song opens on March 17th.

Trailer: Hell or High Water

I love a good modern western, be it No Country For Old Men or A History of Violence, films that take a lot of the themes of the genre and yet are set in modern times, with a contemporary look. Here we have Chris Pine and Ben Foster playing brothers with some financial problems they feel can be solved by robbing banks. Jeff Bridges plays the aging sheriff looking to get to the bottom of the mystery. It’s all soaked with honeyed cinematography, masculinity (facial hair, and crude language abound) and a fair amount of desperation. Nothing particularly original here, but the pleasure of this kind of movie is in the details.

Hell or High Water is written by Taylor Sheridan, fresh off Sicario, scored by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and has a lot of pedigree for a simple story. Just the way I like it.

A story about the collision of the Old and New West, two brothers—Toby, a straight-living, divorced father trying to make a better life for his son; and Tanner, a short-tempered ex-con with a loose trigger finger—come together to rob branch after branch of the bank that is foreclosing on their family land. The hold-ups are part of a last-ditch scheme to take back a future that powerful forces beyond their control have stolen from under their feet. Vengeance seems to be theirs until they find themselves in the cross-hairs of a relentless, foul-mouthed Texas Ranger looking for one last triumph on the eve of his retirement. As the brothers plot a final bank heist to complete their plan, a showdown looms.

Trailer: Hell or High Water

I love a good modern western, be it No Country For Old Men or A History of Violence, films that take a lot of the themes of the genre and yet are set in modern times, with a contemporary look. Here we have Chris Pine and Ben Foster playing brothers with some financial problems they feel can be solved by robbing banks. Jeff Bridges plays the aging sheriff looking to get to the bottom of the mystery. It’s all soaked with honeyed cinematography, masculinity (facial hair, and crude language abound) and a fair amount of desperation. Nothing particularly original here, but the pleasure of this kind of movie is in the details.

Hell or High Water is written by Taylor Sheridan, fresh off Sicario, scored by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and has a lot of pedigree for a simple story. Just the way I like it.

A story about the collision of the Old and New West, two brothers—Toby, a straight-living, divorced father trying to make a better life for his son; and Tanner, a short-tempered ex-con with a loose trigger finger—come together to rob branch after branch of the bank that is foreclosing on their family land. The hold-ups are part of a last-ditch scheme to take back a future that powerful forces beyond their control have stolen from under their feet. Vengeance seems to be theirs until they find themselves in the cross-hairs of a relentless, foul-mouthed Texas Ranger looking for one last triumph on the eve of his retirement. As the brothers plot a final bank heist to complete their plan, a showdown looms.

Fantasia 2015 Review: Cop Car

Cop Car

If Cop Car is an example of anything, it is in praise of the small movie, shot big. In our obsession with city destruction, space opera, dinosaurs and other CGI creations, it is telling that the most body wracking tension is created from having two nine year old boys play, confused, with a few heavy firearms. Even if the safety is on, and the kids don’t know it, the amount of nerve wracking tension generated is palpable.

In fact, Jon Watts’ excellent neo-Amblin-Western could have been convincingly titled “No Country For Young Boys” as it shares a similar sense of ‘people tasks silently’ that the Coen Brothers brought in adapting Cormac McCarthy. Kevin Bacon, seems to be enjoying the ‘villain phase’ of his career, and here he is channelling a charming, but malevolent Sam Elliot type of role, country Sheriff Kretzer, with relish.

When the aforementioned young boys are out for one of those endless summers day walks in wide-stretching Texas farmland, trading cuss-words and imagination play, they stumble upon the eponymous police cruiser with the keys on hand. They take it out for a joy ride, off road, leaving Kretzer in the middle of his nefarious task to get his car back before dispatch figures out that shenanigans are happening. Guns and a few other surprises are in the vehicle, (which the kids are of course obligated to get into) which the Sheriff has to engineer, tout suite, a delicate, balanced solution.

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Review: Killer Joe

When the name William Friedkin comes up in conversation, you cannot help but think of the directors crazy genius period in the 1970s with iconic films such as The Exorcist and The French Connection, or even his highly enjoyable To Live And Die in L.A. in the 1980s. The 1990s and early 2000s appeared to show a decline in quality output and it appeared that the magic was gone as the director headed into his seventies. Then came his chamber-drama Bug, a paranoid science-fiction noir with a whole lotta crazy showed delightful submission to the lead performances, Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd that its ricky one-room conceit worked some real magic. Two films hardly make a trend, but take his latest film and you’ve got to sit up and take notice: The man is taking some risks with genre and succeeding in doing things a little different with his collaboration with playwright Tracey Letts. Killer Joe is a straightforward, even slightly uninspired, noir picture with an excellent cast – all chewing scenery in their own ways – that gets a shot in the arm with its nutty third act. I suspect that this improves the picture on balance, even as it threatens to bring the whole house of cards down with twisted glee. Not unlike Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, the film is built out of classic noir conventions but keeps the circle of characters contained with in the family, to form a knotty plot that results in an intense domestic hell. Killer Joe goes one further as it morphs into a satire of power and violence and diminishing returns for the sons of America.
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Hot Docs 2012: The Revisionaries Review

I left the Hot Docs screening of The Revisionaries angry. Not stomping mad yelling obscenities, but stewing over what I had just seen, frustrated over an inability to do anything about it IMMEDIATELY and trying in vain not to be cranky with the friends who exited the theatre with me. This wasn’t overly surprising since I went into the film – which covers the Texas State Board of Education’s systematic attempt to dismantle their education standards through politics, religion and ignorance – with the expectation of acquiring a certain sense of outrage. It’s not that I was looking forward to that, but I felt that I should see if the film covered any angles or viewpoints I hadn’t heard before. The attempts to dilute the teaching of evolution in certain regions of the U.S. are a huge bone of contention with me, so I wondered how the film would approach the situation in Texas. The first part of the film covers the period of 2009-2010 when the school board tried to leave a loophole in its curriculum standards to allow a “strengths and weaknesses” arguments clause and therefore let non-scientific “theories” into science classrooms.

The film played it mostly as expected – an inherent bias that matched my own and a slight mocking tone of those who completely misunderstand the scientific method, but with an overall style and approach that was reasonably fair. Apparently most of the revisionists who saw the film were quite happy with it and thought their side came through well. Indeed their true colours and viewpoints do come through – mostly through board member and one-time chairman Don McLevoy who desperately tries to open the door for “intelligent design” to find its way into science classrooms in Texas by forcing debate and votes on how evolution should be taught. Considering McLevoy is a Young Earth Creationist (ie. someone who believes the Earth is less than 10000 years old, Noah’s ark really existed, dinosaurs walked with humans, etc.), it’s clear that he shouldn’t be anywhere near decision-making authority when it comes to science education standards. But that’s far from the most surprising thing in the film…First of all, McLevoy comes across as a mostly decent person even though his ideas have no foothold in reality. He’s completely deluded himself into thinking he understands how science works (he even claims to be a skeptic by nature), but genuinely believes in the things he’s trying to do. In what seems to be honest frustration, he admits that he just doesn’t understand his detractors. He’s a dangerous person to be in a position of major influence over one of the country’s major text book markets (to enter the Texas market, the manufacturers have to meet the Board of Education’s guidelines) since he simply doesn’t realize his limitations, but I expected a different kind of fanatic.

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Movie Club Podcast #24: “Paris, Texas” and “Southland Tales”

We got the gang back together for another episode of The Movie Club. Many of the regular crew is present including participants from RowThree, FilmJunk and more new voices from The Director’s Club Podcast. It’s a wild and woolly ride as the panel (re-)discovered the masterpiece that is Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas and then moves on to a more chaotic disagreement with Richard Kelly’s baffling Southland Tales. It’s worth taking a listen just for Jim’s intro with a Gwen Stefani parody. Please head over to the MovieClubPodcast page for a solid listen. Please enjoy responsibly!

           

The Movie Club is as much for the listeners as it is the contributors. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section over at the Movie Club Page. (Comments are turned off on this post.) The Next Episode will be recorded sometime in May (maybe, but do not hold us to that; regularity is not our strong suit!) and the films on discussion will be 52 Pick-Up and The Driver.

Trailer for Herzog’s ‘Into the Abyss’ might drop some jaws.

Perhaps it is my background in sociology that has me so interested. Perhaps it is my unhealthy obsession with Werner Herzog. Or maybe, just maybe, this is going to be one astonishing film documenting those involved in every aspect of a death penalty sentence – in an approach as far away from Dateline ABC as can be. The film is Into the Abyss and it has already won many awards and much praise.

What do you think of this trailer? Is your jaw dropped or is it schmaltzy? It is tucked under the seat

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TIFF Review: Killer Joe

 

When the name William Friedkin comes up in conversation, you cannot help but think of the directors crazy genius period in the 1970s with iconic films such as The Exorcist and The French Connection, or even his highly enjoyable To Live And Die in L.A. in the 1980s. The 1990s and early 2000s appeared to show a decline in quality output and it appeared that the magic was gone as the director headed into his seventies. Then came his chamber-drama Bug, a paranoid science-fiction noir with a whole lotta crazy showed delightful submission to the lead performances, Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd that its ricky one-room conceit worked some real magic. Two films hardly make a trend, but take his latest film and you’ve got to sit up and take notice: The man is taking some risks with genre and succeeding in doing things a little different with his collaboration with playwright Tracey Letts. Killer Joe is a straightforward, if slightly uninspired, noir picture with an excellent cast – all chewing scenery in their own ways – that gets a shot in the arm with its nutty act. I suspect that this improves the picture on balance, even as it threatens to bring the whole house of cards down with twisted glee. Not unlike Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, the film is built out of classic noir conventions but keeps the circle of characters contained with in the family, to form a knotty plot that results in a domestic hell. Killer Joe goes one further as it morphs into a satire of power and violence and diminishing returns for the sons of America.
Would you like to know more…?